Rotorua Stories and Tips

Te Puia: Maori Culture and Geothermal Park

Maori Stick Game Photo, Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua has several amazing choices when it comes to geothermal areas. Tom and I didn’t make any plans until we got to Rotorua and got a feel for what the weather was going to do. Since it rained cats and dogs most of the time we were there, we felt it didn’t make sense to go out of our way so we chose Te Puia, or Maori Arts and Crafts Centre, just up the road from the hotel.

Geared with our umbrellas we headed to the park in the overcast, grey weather. Armed with our 10% off coupon from Avis, the total came to NZ$45. As we purchased our tickets a light mist started. Shall we stand her in the misting rain and wait 20 minutes for the guided tour to start? Not with rain forecasted! Off we went with our brochure and map.

Signs and arrows around the park lead the way around the different paths. Posted information signs tell stories and give insight into each of the sites. Some sites even had audio guides in several languages, which spoke entirely too slow and although interesting, not so much in the rain.

Tom and I set off on the nature trail past bubbling mud pools, boiling puddles of water, and hissing steam coming from the earth. The heat was intense in some areas, but others weren’t very impressive due to the rain hindering or masking activity. Be sure to watch for the Maori carvings hidden amongst the greenery along the trails.

One of my favourite things to see was the Cooking Pool or Ngararatuatara. Its sign reads: "Ngararatuatara derived its name as the surrounding edges of this continuously boiling spring of crystal clear water resembles the skin of a Tuatara, New Zealand’s largest native lizard. It is an alkaline spring which is constantly boiling and flowing. As the water flows down the slopes beyond, it cools and deposits silica to form a delicate sinter apron. This pool in former times was used for cooking Maori delicacies. Today this pool is used to cook food such as sweet corn, mussels, watercress and other foods." It was unreal to stand there and watch a boiling pool of water right there in the earth. It shows you how truly magnificent the earth really is.

Once we got about three-quarters of the way around, it really started raining. So much that umbrellas weren’t doing much anymore. Legs, feet, and arms were not protected very well. At least our heads are dry! The last thing to see in the geothermal area was the geysers, most notably the Pohutu and Prince of Wales geysers, which go off at varying times of the day. The geysers are situated in the area called Blue Pool because of its intense blue colour which collects outflows from the geysers. It was used as a bathing pool with temps ranging from 30-50C. As the rain poured down, we stood there wondering how long before the geyser would go and how long were we willing to wait? The Maori Concert started at 12:15 and we needed some time to walk over there. Considering it was only 11:15 or so, we had some time to waste Standing under a flimsy umbrella in the pouring rain, staring at the earth in hopes that the geyser would erupt sometime soon wasn’t exactly my idea of fun after about 20 minutes. Little spurts of water and steam came out of the ground every few minutes, but we didn’t know if this happened all the time or if it meant the geyser was building up. Finally, after standing there for close to 45 minutes, it really started to go.

Steam and water sprayed high up into the air (it can go as high as 90 feet or 30m). I don’t know how high it went, as it was difficult to judge the scale of it all. It was an amazing sight, and at this point I was glad that we waited. People stood in awe watching the powers of the earth releasing built-up energy. After about 5 to 10 minutes of this, I had enough and was ready to go over to the Maori concert.

By the time we got to the Maori house, quite a few people had piled in, so there weren’t any seats left in front. A seat towards the back corner assured we wouldn’t be in the way of anyone when taking photos. We watched as native Maori sang songs, told tales, and played a Maori stick game. Most interesting was the Maori Poi--a women's dance done with balls, or poi, attached to flax strings which they swung around rhythmically. This used to be done to keep their hands flexible for weaving and for the men to keep up strength and coordination for battle.

Once the show ended, we walked over to the Arts and Crafts Institute to see what kinds of things were on the agenda for today. A flax weaving demonstration had just started. Flax was the most important plants to Maori—uses included skirts, lines, cord, baskets, mats, fishing nets, and so on. The institute also teaches traditional Maori carving. Carvers out of here have gone on to restore meeting houses across New Zealand. We were unable to take in a carving demonstration that day.

At the end of the demonstration, Tom and I headed towards the gift shop. I wanted a regional Maori souvenir. I spotted a substantial assortment of jade, leaving me very confused. Large, small, cheap, expensive—how were these things priced? This is when I found out a little secret. Much of the jade (also known as greenstone or pounamu in NZ) sold in New Zealand isn’t even NZ jade; it is comes from other areas with more abundant jade such as Russia. In actual fact, you will pay dearly for jade, or greenstone, native to the area. I said, "What is the difference between this one and that one?" pointing to two necklaces. The shop assistant discreetly wrote on a piece of paper and slipped it to me—odd behaviour, indeed. The paper read, "Not NZ Jade." And she pointed behind her saying, "Shhh, my boss"—-as if she isn’t supposed to be telling customers this "secret." I ended up buying a small jade pendant for my sister in this shop deciding to wait to find one for myself.

Overall, Te Puia is definitely worth visiting. The geothermal sites leave you with a new appreciation of the earth’s powers. The different sites around the trail from the boiling mud pots to the geysers were all interesting in their own way. The Arts and Crafts Institute is a peek into the history and culture of the Maori people, and this is their way of helping to pass these traditional works to the young people of the islands.

Just down the road from Te Puia, you can follow the road towards the Buried Village and find yourself in the car park near the Green and Blue Lakes. These lakes are legendary in NZ there is a legend or two to go along with them: Maori legends

The Green Lake, or Rotokakahi, is the lake to the south and is completely undeveloped as it is sacred to the Maori. You won’t find water sports or walking trails or large homes built up along this lake. It is the larger of the two lakes and flows into Lake Tarawera via Te Wairoa waterfalls. It appears green due to the shallow sandy bottom. By contrast, the Blue Lake, or Tikiapu, is the water-sports centre for the area—water skiing, kayaking, swimming, etc. It is a volcanic caldera, so it is deeper than the Green Lake and it has no outlet. The water appears a turquoise colour due to the reflections of white rhyolite and pumice on the bottom. Tikiapu is derived from a Maori chief’s daughter who lost her tiki. If you stand up on the large rock, you can catch a glimpse of both of these lakes and note the colour difference. Although, due to the heavy rain, the day we were there, the sun wasn’t able to reflect any colour for us.

From the car park, Tom and I took a nice hike into the forest. A nice path led right into the forest, where we became enthralled by ferns of all sizes, giant redwood trees, and lush surroundings. We didn’t let a little (or a lot) of rain get in the way. After an hour of walking, breathing in fresh forest air, searching for mushrooms, and taking in the stillness of the forest, we decided to head back. When we returned to the car, our jackets had been soaked through and we needed dry clothes.

This area is the heart of the Lake District with several lakes. You will find dozens of walking trails all around the lakes and forest. If you happen to be in the area, take advantage of your lush surroundings and may you stay dry!

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